Tathra fire: Volunteer care and comfort at Bega Showground evacuation centre

COMFORT FOOD: Tourist Trevor Banville lends a hand to Peter Wiley after his camping spot at the Bega Showground was inundated with evacuees.
COMFORT FOOD: Tourist Trevor Banville lends a hand to Peter Wiley after his camping spot at the Bega Showground was inundated with evacuees.

A mix of confusion and camaraderie was in the air at the Bega Showground on Monday morning after residents woke up to the reality of the fire continuing to burn through Tathra and Tarraganda overnight. 

Piles of blankets, towels and clothes built up around the edges of the pavilion and makeshift sitting areas were established for people who evacuated their homes on Sunday afternoon. 

Volunteers took shifts making sandwiches for those forced to take shelter, representatives from the Red Cross accounted for individuals as they arrived and Local Land Services distributed pet food to animal companions. 

Outside, a sea of cars, caravans and tents surrounded the Bega Showground pavilion, with people eager to stay close by for the next announcement from the Rural Fire Service. 

Trevor Banville from Twin Waters on the Sunshine Coast set up his caravan at the Bega Showground only an hour before it was declared an evacuation centre for the Tathra fire, watching hundreds of people flood into the showgrounds. 

On Monday morning he put his holiday on hold and picked up a pair of tongs to help Bega Lions president Peter Wiley on the free breakfast barbecue.

“I’ve been through tornadoes and floods up in Queensland, so I know what it’s like for people to lose their homes,” Mr Banville said. 

“You can’t not help, it’s the least I can do when I know these people have lost their property or can’t get back home.”

Mr Banville, his wife and their two friends will continue to help volunteers at the Bega Showground for the next three days of their stay.

Back inside, Bega High School students Bella Kilpatrick, Year 9, Woti Fastigata, Year 8 and Grace Stanger, Year 11 were on hand in the kitchen. 

Bega High School students Bella Kilpatrick, Woti Fastigata and Grace Stanger helped at the Bega Showground evacuation centre while their school is closed due to Tathra fire.

Bega High School students Bella Kilpatrick, Woti Fastigata and Grace Stanger helped at the Bega Showground evacuation centre while their school is closed due to Tathra fire.

With schools across the region closed due to the fire, they said many of their friends and fellow students didn’t know what to do. 

“In some ways it would be better if we did go to school, that way we could see everyone and make sure they’re okay,” Bella said. 

“We’ve been talking to a few friends who have lost houses which is really sad, we can’t help there, but we can help here.”

Woolworths supermarkets supplied food and toiletries from their Bega, Moruya and Batemans Bay stores for those at the evacuation centre, ranging from infants to the elderly. 

The smoke from fires burning on the mountains to the east of the Bega Showground could be seen through the doors of the pavilion, creating a sense of unrest among the crowd inside. 

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